The uncomfortable feeling of increased ear pressure is usually caused by a malfunction of the Eustachian tube, which connects the nasopharynx to the middle ear. This channel opens and closes when yawning and swallowing, which helps to maintain the proper pressure between the environment outside of the body and the middle ear.
When pressure builds up in the middle ear, this condition is known as barotrauma. Barotrauma can cause pain, a blocked ear, and slight hearing loss. Common causes include sinus infection, allergies, upper respiratory infection, swollen throat, and having a cold due to increased mucus, bacteria, and inflammation. Changes in altitude can also cause middle ear pressure changes, such as being in the mountains, scuba diving, or flying in a plane.
How to Relieve Ear Pressure
Yawn or Gulp Water
Yawning or gulping water can help to open the Eustachian tubes, which equalizes the pressure between the external environment and the middle ear. Drinking water also helps to thin the mucus in the nasal passages, which makes it easier to drain. Relieving a stuffy nose is an effective method for ear pressure relief.
Chew Gum or Suck on Candy
Chewing gum or sucking on candy encourages movement of the Eustachian tubes, which helps to relieve pressure in the ears.
Perform Valsalva Maneuver
Performing Valsalva maneuver can easily relieve pain and stuffiness in the ear. The following steps show how to relieve ear pressure using the Valsalva maneuver:
Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils with your fingers. Then take a deep breath.
Exhale through your nose to equalize air pressure in your middle ear.
You should hear a popping sound that indicates the opening of the Eustachian tubes.
Be careful to avoid blowing your nose too hard or else it may cause eardrum damage.
Apply a Warm Compress
Another good way to relieve ear pressure is to apply a warm compress.
Soak a cloth in hot water and then place it against your ear. The heat helps to relieve pressure in the ear.
You can also fold several paper towels together and use warm water to wet them. Place them on your ear while lying on the ear that is not affected. Place a cup over the paper towels for ear pressure relief.
Avoid Temperature Extremes
Avoid taking part in activities during extreme weather, such as building a snow fort on a cold day or jogging on a hot day, when you are experiencing problems with your ears. Temperature extremes can cause ear problems related to sinus issues to become worse.
Keep Your Head Up
An easy way to relieve ear pressure is to avoid bending your head down as this can make the pressure feel worse. Using a couple of pillows at night to keep your head elevated can also help.
Change Your Sleep Position
Using the right or left lateral recumbent position is a good method to relieve ear pressure while sleeping. This involves lying down on your side with the affected ear facing upwards. You can also move your body towards the side of the mattress so that your head and shoulder are suspended over the bedstead. This position change will help relieve pressure in the ear.
Take a Hot Shower or Steam
Taking a shower with hot water or standing in steam for 15 minutes or longer is an effective way to reduce the uncomfortable feeling and relieve pressure in the ear.
Massage Your Ear with Garlic and Olive Oil
Massaging around ear with garlic and olive oil can help soothe the ache, relieve pressure buildup and promote drainage. Combine a mixture of garlic and olive oil, then massage it starting from the otic region to the cervical region.
Onions are also an effective method of relieving ear pressure. Heat a chopped onion until it reaches body temperature. Wrap it in a cloth and apply it over the affected ear as a hot compress. Be sure to use a new onion each time.
Medications may be needed to help reduce ear pressure caused by nasal congestion or sinus infections. Some medications that can help include decongestants, antihistamines, and steroids. If you have an ear infection, or to prevent one, you may be prescribed an antibiotic. Saline nasal sprays, which are made from a combination of salt and water, can also help to moisturize the area, get rid of allergens, and relieve pressure in the sinuses.
Gargle with Hot Salt Water
Gargling with hot salt water can help relieve nasal congestion and ear pressure. Add a teaspoon of salt to a glass of hot water and gargle it for 15-30 seconds, then spit it out. This can be repeated as often as needed for ear pressure relief.
- While on a plane, avoid sleeping as the plane is getting ready to land. Try repeating the first 3 methods of how to relieve ear pressure outlined in this article. For small children and babies, try nursing or giving them sips of a drink.
- When scuba diving, go down and come up slowly. Be sure to avoid diving when you have a respiratory infection or allergies as ear pressure will become severe.
- If these methods do not help after several hours, you feel that the amount of pressure is severe, or there is bleeding or drainage from the ear, you have severe pain in the ear or fever, see a doctor immediately.
- Before flying, you can safely use antihistamines or decongestants. Try not to take part in activities that involve altitude changes when you have allergies or an upper respiratory infection. Discuss with your doctor before taking decongestants if you are going to scuba dive.
- Avoid smoking, caffeine, alcohol and salt as these can cause minor changes in blood flow, which can affect your circulation and increase ear pressure.